Aug 12

Fresh Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Several years ago I read an article about fresh spring rolls. It was intriguing; the pictures were beautiful to look at and they sounded delicious. But I never made them. I admired the article and the fresh spring rolls at an arms distance. I cannot explain why I didn’t attempt them; I guess there was something about the whole thing that was daunting to me.

My favorite makings of fresh spring rolls.

My favorite makings of fresh spring rolls.

Fast forward, to a couple of years ago. I was in one of the Asian markets here in Seattle and saw rice papers and thought to myself- “There is no time like the present.” I gave it a few tries before I felt I really knew what I was doing. There is a balance between soaking the rice papers and how moist or hydrated you want to keep them before trying to fill and roll them. Also, keeping your filling as organized and neatly together helps the rolls stay together rather than fall apart on you. Other than that; they could not have been any simpler to make. Why was I so hesitant to try them in the first place?

Sliced and chopped vegetables.

Sliced and chopped vegetables.

The fun part of it all is that you can fill the spring rolls with just about anything. I have seen them stuffed with lettuce leaves poking out of the top of them, large boiled shrimps, variety of herbs, strips of chicken, crunchy vegetables, and even rice.  I personally like to think about how I would like it to feel as you bite into it. Do not forget that what you dip it into is where the real fun comes in. I am sure can you think of any number of dressings or sauces to serve with them. (It is really just like a salad after all.) But I like to keep it somewhat Asian by mixing up a spicy peanut sauce to serve alongside. The fresh array of veggies, rice noodles, and tofu I fill the wrapper with go with the rich spicy peanut sauce. If you are like us, you will be using a spoon dribble the sauce onto the rolls. It is so good we like to get as much of it on there as we can.

Neatly wrapping up the roll will lead to easier eating.

Neatly wrapping up the roll will lead to easier eating.

Now, since this is relatively a cold dish it is perfect for these warm summer nights. The only thing you really need to cook – or should I say warm – is the rice paper. All that really entails is a tea kettle filled with water. We have made a meal of them and enjoyed them for dinner, but they can be made as an appetizer and even serve them up for a lunch. I have made them up and placed them in a plastic container and brought them as a treat for others too. Just like what you place in them, the possibilities are endless. I just hope you are not intimidated by them as I once was. Give them a try and dig in, you will not be disappointed.

Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Fresh Spring Rolls (serves 4-6) Rice Papers (about 12) Thin Rice Noodles (a large handful) 1 red bell pepper; cut into even, thin strips 1 large carrot; cut into even, thin strips 1 cucumber; cut into even, thin strips 5-6 leaves of cabbage, thinly shredded 2 scallions, chopped small 5 mint leaves, thinly sliced 1 – 2 tbsp of chopped cilantro 1 block of tofu, sliced thinly First; mix your cabbage, scallion, mint, and cilantro together and set aside. Have organized all your veggies and cabbage mixture together along with your tofu nearby. Next, place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover the rice noodles with boiled “hot” water. Cover the bowl and let it sit for about two minutes. Once the noodles are softened drain in a colander and rinse under running cool water. Strain them again and set aside. Then, in a bowl or deep plate (big enough to fit your rice paper) place your rice paper and cover it with warm / hot water to soften.  Once rice paper is softened place it on a clean work surface. Neatly, layer in your veggies, tofu, and rice noodles in the center of your rice paper. Finally; to wrap the spring roll up you will take the bottom end and fold it up, over the veggies. Take the two opposing ends and fold them in and over the bottom half. Now, gently roll the stuffed rice paper up toward the open end of the rice paper until it is one cylinder form. The rice paper will stick to itself to seal. Place them on a platter with their dipping sauce and serve. Note: If serving at a later time cover the spring rolls with a dampened paper towel and cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. Also when plating, I like to layer them between crisp lettuce leaves,

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce 1 cup of all natural peanut butter 2 Thai chilies, minced 1 scallion, chopped small 1 clove of garlic, minced 1 tsp ginger, freshly grated 1 lime, zested and juiced 1- 2 tbsp of brown sugar 1 tsp of Siracha Chili sauce 1 tbsp of soy sauce Rice wine vinegar, to taste Water, to taste First, in a bowl place your peanut butter along with all your other ingredients (except the water). Using a whisk gently stir the mixture together until it is combined and thick. Finally, adding in a bit of water at a time to your peanut butter mixture. Keep mixing the water in until you sauce is smooth but will still coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more vinegar or soy. Serve along the side of your fresh spring rolls.

Aug 08

When your surroundings change there is so much to learn. (Like, Verdolaga aka: Purselane)

It was not long after my move to Phoenix that Brian and I bought a home. We were so young, we had so many ideas, so many ambitions, so much enthusiasm, and yet we had no clue about so many things. The climate and style of living in the southwest is much different from that of New Jersey; so needless to say we had a big learning curve.

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Freshly washed and trimmed Verdolaga aka: Purselane

We held our own. Painting each room, demoing odd cabinetry and shelves, changing out light fixtures with a few phone calls to my dad (he was an electrician when I was a little girl), but when it came to gardening we really knew nothing. We tried to grow a few things, killed a couple of plants on accident, and did lots of weeding. A year or two later we were at the downtown farmer’s market and I noticed something odd. One of the venders was selling the same greens we were weeding and trying to get rid of in our yard. I questioned the farmer about them and she explained that it was Verdolaga, or also known as Purselane.

Sautéed Verdolaga with Onions

It is an edible succulent that grows annually. The farmer explained that it has a similar taste to spinach, and in many Mexican homes it is not uncommon to cook it quickly with onions and tomatoes. I purchased some and tried it out that week. (I couldn’t make use the ones growing in our back yard because we used a weed killer on them and no longer had any.) It turns out that we loved it. The green did have a very similar flavor to that of spinach, but it had a much nicer texture to it. I tried making it with so many things, but simply with some eggs is by far my favorite. At a farmer’s market here in Seattle I found the Verdolaga, aka: Purselane again. I was so happy; I really thought it was just a southwest thing that I would not come across living here in the Pacific Northwest. So the other night for dinner I prepared it in our favorite most simple way possible. Just sautéed -with onion and a bit of olive oil. Serve it alongside a sunny side up egg and your favorite salsa. You will be amazed at the brightness of the flavors and simplicity of it all. If you come across some Verdolaga or Purselane anytime soon. Give it a try. I only wish I wasn’t trying to kill it all that time, I could have been enjoying it with eggs on a regular basis.

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Verdolaga and a Sunny Side Up Egg topped with Salsa

Sautéed Verdolaga aka: Purselane (Serves 2-4)

1 bunch of Verdolaga; washed well, trimmed, and a roughly chopped

1 small onion, sliced thin

2 – 4 tbsp of olive oil

Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Eggs (1 or 2 per person)

Salsa

First; take a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan (about 10 inches) and place it over medium heat. Once heated through add in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and warm it slightly. Add in your onion and gently sauté for about 5 minutes.

Next; once your onions are translucent and a bit golden on the edges add in your Verdolaga. You want to gently stir it all together. You are looking for the greens to begin to wilt. Add a bit of sea salt and black pepper and stir again. When the greens are evenly wilted you can remove from the heat and set aside.

Then; place a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add in your remainder of olive oil and heat though. Crack your eggs and gently add them to the pan. You want to let the eggs sizzle until the edges are slightly golden and the whites are set and cooked though; while your yolk will still jiggle, and then remove from heat.  (*Note: depending on how many eggs you are cooking you might need to use more olive oil, adding more as you cook each egg.)

Finally; place a bit of your Verdolaga and onions in your plate and alongside place your cooked eggs. Top it with your favorite salsa and along with some potatoes or warmed tortillas and enjoy.

 

 

Jul 31

Raspberry and Nectarine Pie with Almond Streusel

It is really uncommon to have either day of the weekend off when you work in a restaurant. Miraculously, I ended up with this Saturday off a week ago! This means I was sharing a day off with Brian – an extremely rare event. We treated it like it was a mini vacation touring about the city.

We went to a special bakery for “breakfast”, hit up an obscure coffee shop you enter through an alley, walked through one of the neighborhood farmer markets, had lunch at my favorite whole in the wall Indian restaurant, walked my uncles’ dog, came home and walked our own girls, and then watched a three hour documentary on J.D. Salinger . It was a fun filled and packed day to say the least. Completely, and totally in a vagabond style. I personally think it is the only way I do things, random and then see where you end up. There is always an element of surprise that way. The downside is you end up tired and you don’t feel like you really had a day off! Also, you don’t feel like really cooking or baking anything.

My girls, tiered from a long afternoon walk with us. They look like I felt.

My girls, tired from a long afternoon walk with us. They look like I felt.

So when Wednesday of this week rolled around and I had another day off I was determined to hang out around the apartment and get a bunch of relaxation in. Relaxing and hanging out indoors was not hard considering that the temperature dropped below 70 degrees and never really saw the sun come through. I had a small flat of raspberries from a local farm in the refrigerator along with really rip nectarines sitting in a bowl on my counter. This was the perfect opportunity to combine the two and make something, like a pie perhaps?!?

Rspberry and nectarine Pie with Almond Struesle Topping. Latte watching over to be sure it is all good!

Raspberry and Nectarine Pie with Almond Struesle Topping. Latte watching over to be sure it is all good!

Yes, it was time for pie. A Raspberry and Nectarine Pie topped with Almond Streusel. As it baked the lovely smell of the fruit comingled with the almond topping. It really brightens the cool and unsunny day of summer. As I pulled it from the oven it continued to bubble as it cooled, I was mesmerized a bit as I watched it cool. I wanted to stand right over that warm bubbly pie with a spoon and dig in, but with much restraint I held back and waited a few hours for Brian to come home. After dinner we indulged in two slices a piece. They were so vibrantly tasty, like the summer sun worked some magic into the fruit that went into this pie. The sweet and slightly tart fruit filling against the crisply toasted almond topping was scrumptious. We continued eating a slice each night after dinner until there was no more. It is defiantly time for more pie!

Eating my second piece of pie.

Eating my second piece of pie.

Raspberry and Nectarine Pie with Almond Streusel (serves 10 – 12)

Almond Streusel

¾ cup of AP flour

½ cup of sugar

½ tsp of sea salt

3 oz butter, cold and cubed

½ cup of slivered almonds

1 tsp of vanilla extract

Filling

3 pints of raspberries, washed and picked over

3 nectarines, pitted and chopped into 1 – ½ inch cubes

½ cup of sugar

2 tbsp of A.P. flour

Crust

1/2 recipe of Pate Brise

First, follow the recipe for the pate brise. Once it is mixed and chilled roll out in a circular shape to about ¼ inch thickness. You are looking to fill a 9 – 10 inch pie pan. Gently lay the crust into the pan and gently fold the edges over and crimp it with your finger to flute the edging. Place the whole pan in the freezer and chill for about 30 minutes.

Pate Brise prepped in the pie plate,

Pate Brise prepped in the pie plate,

Next, in the bowl of a food processor place all your streusel ingredients and keep pulsing until your almonds are ground finely and your butter in in tiny lumps. Place it half of this mixture in a bowl and place in the refrigerator to keep chilled. The other half wrap tightly and store in the freezer for a later use. You may store it up to three months for another use.

Raspberry and Nectarine filling.

Raspberry and Nectarine filling.

Then, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl place your raspberries, nectarines, sugar, and AP flour. Toss it all together well (it is okay id the berries start to break down). Remove your pie crust from the freezer and place the pie plate on a rimmed sheet pan. Gently pour the fruit filling into the pie crust and evenly distribute. Remove the streusel topping from the refrigerator and evenly place over the top of the fruit filling.

Almond Streusle topping all piled on.

Almond Streusle topping all piled on.

Finally, place in the middle of the oven and bake about 45 min to an hour. Be sure to rotate the pie half way though. Keep an eye on it as the topping may brown too quickly. If this is the case you can drop the oven temperature to 375 degrees for the remaining of the baking. When you crust and topping is evenly golden you should remove from the oven and let cool a few hours before serving.

Jul 17

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies

The other day I wanted something other than fruit; with summer in full swing we are indulging in all the super ripe summer fruits. Berries, apricots, nectarines, cherries – we have been helping ourselves to handfuls at a time. They are super sweet and tart, while being so juicy their nectar can barely be contained when slicing them. It feels so good to be enjoying all the natural wonders of summer like this. But sometimes I feel like being naughty! By naughty I mean, indulging in something sweet and decadently chewy instead of all that summer stone fruit and berries.

Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

So in the morning I made some brown butter and set it aside for cooling. Have you had brown butter before? I have heard it referred to as a gift of the culinary gods! But all that it is is butter that is left over a low flame until it is melted and the solids of the butter separate from the fat and it begins to “toast” and turns the loveliest deeply golden color. Brown butter possesses a slightly nutty aroma and flavor to it as well. It is fantastic to drizzle over steamed veggies, or to sauté a light piece of fish in it. As if that is not enough to do with it, add brown butter to a cookie or cake recipe and the flavor of that recipe creates a depth that exceeds normal butter. I would not say you should go around and replace brown butter in every baking recipe you have, but in certain items it makes it sublime.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

With the brown butter made and cooled to room temperature I opted to whip up some Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies. They were moist, chewy, with a slightly crisp outer layer, while the interior was “almond-y“ and nutty from the brown butter. It was a perfect break away from the usual summer fruit. The blondies were great with some tea, and may I admit – even better as breakfast! This recipe is baked in a 9 by 13 inch pan, so depending on how you cut it you can end up with about fifteen pieces. More than enough to share and even more than enough to be naughty with. That is if you chose to eat them on your own; but I must admit, I enjoy them more when shared!

Chewy and Yummy!

Chewy and Yummy!

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies (makes about 15)

1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons sea salt

1 ¾ cups packed light-brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

1 ¼ cup almond slivers, toasted

First, place a small heavy bottomed pot (at least a quart or two in size) over medium low heat and place your butter within it. Keeping a close eye on it, because it can burn very easily. It will melt, then it will foam a bit, before it will slowly start to “toast” and turn amber like in color. Once the color is achieved remove it from the heat and let cool. You can place it in a bowl if you wish, or it can remain in the pan. It will be fine at room temperature for the day, (you can wrap it up and store it in the refrigerator until its use). For this recipe you will want to have the browned butter at room temperature.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer place your browned butter, brown sugar, and sugar in it. Mix it all together with the paddle attachment until pale in color and fluffy. To this add 1 egg at a time until it is thoroughly mixed before adding the next one. Scraping it down between them all. To this add your vanilla and almond extract and mix evenly.

Then; in a separate bowl add both of the flours, baking powder, and sea salt. Whisk it together and add it to your butter and egg mixture and mix it well, until it is even. To this add 1 cup of your toasted almonds and fold together. Pour the batter in your prepared pan and over the top sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of almonds. Place it in the center of your oven and bake about 40 – 45 minutes, rotating it half way through.

Finally, once your Blondie appears golden and slightly firm you can remove and let cool about 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Can be wrapped in the pan or removed to a plate or platter and covered with plastic wrap. These Blondies can be stored at room temp for up to 5 days.

Jul 12

Beet Cured Salmon (Gravlax)

I have been strategizing as to what we can eat that does not warm up the apartment leaving us with our t-shirts sticking to us. Because when I do end up like that it leads to us sitting in front of our one fan to cool off with my hair curling to a point of no return.  The temperature out has not been too bad. In fact I have truly been enjoying the summer afternoons out and about. The sky has been the loveliest shade of blue. Yet, I have learned that it is only getting warmer.  What is a girl supposed to do?

Enjoying the warm summer afternoons out and about.

Enjoying the warm summer afternoons out and about.

I ended up curing some salmon this past week. There is no heat involved in that!  I got the recipe from a book I picked up while we were in London. It is called “Salt Sugar Smoke” by Diana Henry. If you have not guessed, it is all about preserving in every shape and form. I have loved reading it and putting it to use; so far the recipes from it have been great. The recipe for preserving the salmon really peaked my interest and part of the reason why I purchased the book to begin with.  You see it involves lots of dill, sugar, salt, and beets. Yes, beets! You mix it all together and pat it along the salmon. You wrap it up and place something a bit heavy on it and let it rest (cure) for a few days in the refrigerator. You then uncover it and viola – it is ready!!!

Getting the salmon ready for its curing.

Getting the salmon ready for its curing.

Salmon after curing.

Salmon after curing.

Could it be any easier? Other than planning ahead, I don’t think so. How to serve the cured salmon was now the question. I decided on a traditional rout of bagels, cream cheese, capers, onion, cucumber, and lettuce. But why I opted to make my own bagels in this heat? I really have no answer other than I wanted the challenge. So in the late afternoon I was boiling water to make bagels. The kitchen grew humid and my hair’s natural curl crept in to make an appearance. After boiling them you bake them. Bake them in an oven preheated to 425 degrees. (So much for that easy and cool dinner.) The bagels were delicious, but the overall recipe needs more tweaking. I will be doing that once things cool down outside. Until then I hope you enjoy the salmon recipe. The beets are quite mild in flavor but lend their intensity of color. It is the dill you taste overall with an undertone of sweetness followed by a hint of saltiness. Quite perfect for a summer evening, as we sit in front of the fan and enjoy our dinner.  Other than the obvious, it is great and impressive to grace a table for a brunch. If you end up giving the recipe a try feel free to eat the cured salmon any way you wish, but believe me – it just might be best in this heat to go out and purchase the bagels.

Plated Salmon, with all the fixings!

Plated Salmon, with all the fixings!

Beet Cured Salmon (serves 14)

*recipe from the book- Salt Sugar Smoke by, Diana Henry

2 lbs 12 oz of Salmon, tail pieces in two halves (filleted but skin left on)

6 tbsp of Vodka

4 ½ oz of Sugar

3 1/3 oz of Sea Salt

2 tbsp of Black Pepper, coarsely ground

1 large bunch of Dill, roughly chopped

14 oz of Beets. peeled and grated

First, check your salmon to be sure it is clean and no pin bones remain. You can check this by running your fingers over the salmon to see if you feel any bones remaining. If so you can remove them with a tweezers.

Next, line a large platter or dish with foil. (I used a rimmed baking sheet.) With your salmon halves skin side down rub the flesh evenly with the vodka. In a bowl place your sugar, sea salt, dill, black pepper, and beets. Toss it all together well.  Lay one half of your salmon skin side down on the foil. Top it with your dill and beet mixture and pat it down. Place the other half of your salmon over it, flesh side down (facing the dill and beet mixture). Wrap your foil up and around your salmon halves to completely cover it. You are looking to overall cover the salmon with the foil. If it does not cover it completely don’t worry. You can use more foil to cover it. Place the foil covered salmon on your dish or platter and place a weight on it (like a can or two of food); you are just looking to “weight it down” slightly. Place it in the refrigerator and rotated it every day or so replacing the weight on top with each turn. Some liquid might spill out, that is fine and normal. Just drain it off.

Finally, after about 4 days to a week you can remove the salmon from the refrigerator. Unwrap it carefully and remove all the dill-beet mixture. Once you scrape it clean you are ready to slice and serve. When slicing run a very sharp knife along the flesh and cutting it in thin pieces, away from the skin.

***Note: if not using right away the cured salmon can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for up to a month. Defrost in the refrigerator before slicing and serving. 

Jul 03

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

The Seattle streets have been busy, the sun has been shining, the days are long, and the warm weather is here. This past weekend was the 40th Anniversary of the Pride Parade. We are fortunate that it goes right by our apartment. We watched from our window a bit, and then headed down to the street to watch it all go by. It was so colorful and exciting. The parade was huge this year being it was a big anniversary and we got some sun as we stood there contently entertained as it passed us by. Brian put on sunblock, but still ended up with a light burn. I guess that is the price you pay for living in predominantly cloud covered city. When the sun does come out to shine, it leaves its mark.

Just one of the many groups marching and preforming in the parade.

Just one of the many groups marching and preforming in the parade.

All this sunshine and warmer weather makes it harder deciding what to cook. I mean it is quite common not to get air conditioning throughout the city, even harder in our building knowing it was built in 1914. Not that I am complaining, this is nothing in comparison to the 115 degree heat (or higher) we experienced in Phoenix. Although, it does make me consider what to make for dinner by how long it will have to “cook” and how warm it will make our apartment. I walked down to Pikes Place Market and weaved and darted between the tourists to get to a fish counter I like. I picked up some salmon for curing (it should be ready in a few days) and some scallops for Brian. I figured we could grill the scallops outside and whip up an easy Black Bean and Corn Salad. The salad takes no time to whip up and is supper cool and refreshing to eat. This salad is great to make even a day ahead of time as I think it improves as it sits and the flavors develop a bit as they marinate together.

Now let me be completely honest; I am not showing a picture of the scallops with the salad for a simple reason. I went down to our court yard where the grill is and I lit it waiting for it to get about 400 – 500 degrees. I scraped it down and cleaned it well before placing my scallops on. Have you ever had to share a cooking space like a grill with others? It isn’t always “pretty” as others tend to forget to clean up after themselves. After I prepared the grill I placed the scallops on. As the scallops sizzled and began to “drip” it ignited a huge flame over the whole grill. It seems there were too many drippings at the bottom of the grill that the previous users did not clean out or burn off. I was standing there staring into the huge raging flame that engulfed the few scallops I had cooking for Brian. Rest assures the scallops were fine as I was darting my hand and tongs in and out of the massive flame with hopes I didn’t burn myself. In a bit of time and panic we got the flame under control. I had this vision that the scallops would be shriveled bits only after the fire department was called. As it turns out they were just “blackened” a bit from all the carbon. Brian insisted they still tasted great- they just didn’t look all that pretty. But the salad was bright in flavor, bright in color, pretty to look at, and delicious to eat. We made them as lettuce wraps, but this is just as great to eat on its own. It is the perfect summer food. No real cooking involved (or danger of a grill) and cool it eat!

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad (serves 6)

1 can (15 oz) of Black Beans, drained and rinsed well

1 can (15 oz) of corn, drained and rinsed well

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped small

½ small onion, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

1 cup of feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup of olive oil

3-4 tbsp of red wine vinegar

¼ tsp of cayenne pepper (to taste really, using your judgment)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Lettuce leaves, like romaine or butter; cleaned and patted dry

Sour cream, optional

First; in a large mixing bowl place your black beans, corn, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Toss it together well. Over the top of it sprinkle your olive oil, red wine vinegar, a bit of your cayenne pepper, sea salt and black pepper. And toss again.

Next; sprinkle in your feta and toss again. (I like to leave the feta till almost last. You want it to marinate together, but with all the tossing the more it can break down too finely.) Cover it and place in the refrigerator about an hour or overnight.

Finally; when ready to serve, toss again and taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. You might want to add more cayenne pepper…you have to wait and see as the flavor might “bloom” as it sits. Also adjust the sea salt and black pepper. Serve next to the lettuce leaves and sour cream so guests can assemble as they like.

Jun 26

Pasta and Vodka Sauce

About two weeks ago I came home on a Sunday afternoon; it was over cast with a constant breeze coming through the window. I will admit that for the beautiful weather we were having this was odd. Although, the month of June here in Seattle is known as the “June Gloom”…this chill felt off kilter. Why the whole week prior it was in the 70’s and I was indulging in long walks with the girls to soak up the sun. I needed to warm myself up as the apartment was chilly, and my stomach was rumbling. I looked over what I had and knew the perfect thing to make would be Vodka Sauce.

Pasta and Vodka Sauce

Pasta and Vodka Sauce

Several years ago I was watching Ina Garten on the Food network and she was cooking with this chef from a restaurant in the Hamptons. They said that this was one of their most popular dishes at the restaurant and after watching them make it together I just had to make it for myself. You see they took the Vodka and reduced it in the pan then add their tomatoes only to place a lid on the pan and place it in a 375 degree oven to roast together for an hour and a half. You then follow up pureeing it, only to add cream and fresh oregano to it. The result is a sauce that is so velvety smooth and rich. I coats the pasta wonderfully and its flavor is so deep with a light heat to it. It was perfect for the June Gloom.

The tomatoes after roasting in the oven.

The tomatoes after roasting in the oven.

So while Brian was watching the finally to “The Game of Thrones” I had the oven going and was roasting those tomatoes. By the time the tomatoes were done and my pot of water was boiling for the pasta, Brian’s show was almost over. Perfect timing! We sat down to a bowl each of the Pasta and Vodka Sauce and Brian grinned. We both agreed it has been too long since I had made it last, but it was so good again it made up for lost time! I know a bowl of pasta may not be the perfect dish for “summer” but it was fitting with the overcast June Gloom day we were experiencing. Not to mention the left overs were just as good.  Hopefully you will be as smitten with this recipe as we were. Happy summer to you! Hopefully it will not be too gloomy!

 

Vodka Sauce finished and awaiting its pasta!

Vodka Sauce finished and awaiting its pasta!

Pasta and Vodka Sauce (serves 8)

*this recipe is adapted from Ina Garter of the Barefoot Contessa where she cooks with a chef from Nick and Toni’s. This recipe serves a lot, but can easily be cut in half.

1/3 cup of olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped small

3 cloves of garlic, chopped small

¾ tsp of crushed red pepper flakes

1 ½ tsp of dries oregano

1 cup of vodka

2 (28 oz) cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand

Sea Salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 cup of heavy cream

4 tbsp of fresh oregano

Parmesan Cheese for grating

1 ½ pounds of pasta (penne, Rigatoni, Fusilli, etc.)

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Place a large sauté pan with a fitted over medium heat. Add your onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. You are looking for the onion to become transparent, not browning. You may then add your garlic, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper. Sauté together about another minute longer.

Next, add your vodka and let it all simmer until the mixture is reduced my half. Add your tomatoes and stir it well. Place a lid over it all and place it carefully into the oven for about 1 ½ hours. When time is up carefully remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.

Meantime, place a large pot of salted water over high heat.

Then, when your tomatoes are cooled you can place them in a blender or food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and thick sauce. Return it to the pan and place over a low flame. By now your water is probably boiling and cook the pasta until it is al dente.

Finally, add the cream and fresh oregano to the sauce and heat through. Season with Sea salt and black pepper to your taste. Stir it well and add a little bit at a time to your pasta and toss. You want to coat the pasta and then have extra to serve it with. Add about a ¼ cup of the parmesan when mixing and serve the rest for guests to help themselves when eating.

 

Jun 16

Indian Dal (Lentil Soup)

Over a week ago a friend of mine posted a picture on Instagram. It was of a beautiful bowl of Dal. Just looking at her bowl of lentils was enticing; I knew what I was making that weekend. So on Sunday afternoon I gathered my lentils, ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and spices. I simmered it all together on the stove until the lentils were tender, and our home smelt exotic. It was quite breezy out and this warm bowl of Dal with a refreshing Raita to accompany it was perfect. Not to mention its deep orange huge is extremely pretty to look at as it sits waiting for you to dig into it.

Dal with Raita, Rice, and Lime on the side.

Dal with Raita, Rice, and Lime on the side.

I really love a good lentil dish; I find it really hard to pass up. Same goes for Indian food- I adore it. This dish takes these two things plus a depth of flavor and spice that I crave after. It is also what makes me go after Indian food time and time again; I just feel I can never get enough of it! I have tried many variations of Dal over the years, but I always go back to the first recipe I tried on my own. It is from The Joy of Cooking that I have adapted a bit over time to get this recipe to where there is heat from the chili, depth to the spices, richness in its texture, and a freshness of herbs in its finished taste combined into a pure pleasurable occurrence. I promise you once you taste it for yourself you will keep helping yourself to more…as I did with the leftovers all this week.

I do understand that a spicy dish, for example one with chili and ginger may intimidate some into trying this recipe. But be assured that you can adapt it to your own liking. Don’t skimp out on the ingredients but make it your own. For example, use less ginger and only add chili to sprinkle in at the end to your own liking. In experience; you can always add spices and herbs to build up to a flavor profile that pleases you. It is hard to remove it as heat and the intensity of flavor that does build as it simmered together over time. Do not let the ingredients intimidate you, but bring it to where you will enjoy it. I have thanked my friend for her picture and inspiration for our dinner. I just hope that I can do the same here as you look at this beautiful Dal. Trust me on this one, smelling the aroma and enjoying this dish will make you feel like you are someplace extraordinary.

Indian Dal with Rice and Raita

Indian Dal with Rice and Raita

Indian Dal (serves 6)

1 cup of red lentils

3 cups of water (plus more if needed)

1 cup of onion, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ tbsp of fresh ginger, minced

½ tsp of turmeric (adds a bit more color and flavor to this dish)

1 tsp of curry powder mix (South Indian Curry if you have available)

1 tsp of sea salt

1 large serrano or jalapeno, chopped small

2 tomatoes, chopped small (canned is fine)

Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Cooked long grain rice, to serve with (**I usually use basmati rice for this, but I was out when I made this, so I subbed jasmine rice instead.)

First; in a 4 quart pot place your lentils, onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, curry, and sea salt. Place the pot over medium heat, partially covered with a lid, and bring it to a simmer until the lentils have doubled in size and it appears to have thickened a bit – about 40 minutes.

Next; to the pot add your tomato, and chili. Let it simmer together about 10 – 15 more minutes. Your tomato will begin to break down and the contents of the pot will thicken up a bit more. At this time you will want to taste it and adjust your seasoning a bit. Also, it is at this point that you can add a bit more water to it all if you feel it is too thick.

Then, remove from heat and puree in batches. You can puree the whole pot if you would like a smooth soup, but if your can also only puree half of it if you would like a bit more texture to the overall dish. When finished pureeing return to the pot until ready to serve.

Finally, when ready to serve you can rewarm the Dal over low heat until warm and heated through. Serve with the rice, lime wedges, cilantro leaves, and the Raita (recipe to follow).

Raita (makes about 1 ½ cups)

¾ cup of cucumber, chopped small (English or Persian cucumbers work fine)

2 green onions, finely chopped (light green and white parts)

2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro

2 tsp of chopped fresh mint

½ – ¾ cup of plain Greek yogurt

Sea Salt to taste

First, in a small bowl combine all of the above and stir until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Finally, when ready to serve give the mixture another stirring and taste to adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more sea salt or a pinch of sugar if you feel it is needed and serve.

Jun 06

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries

Cherries are back in season.  Excuse me as I bow down to the cherry gods to give thanks for these perfect, little orbs of deliciousness. I wait all year for the cherries to show up at the local markets, and come down in price. As tempting as they may seem at first sight, the prices can be a bit crazy. So as soon as they come down to a somewhat moderate level I jump at the chance to bring them home and enjoy them.

I picked up a few handfuls of cherries two weeks ago at the farmer’s market. Unfortunately, I ran short on time for what I had planned with them. When I came home from work ready to bake with them – Brian said he had tossed them in the compost that morning. They were as he explained: mushy and moldy. I am the only one to blame, but I was disappointed. I was planning on making muffins with them. Not just any muffin, but a double chocolate one with the cherries chopped and folded in.

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries

So the next day I went off to the market, and I picked up more cherries. I was determined. I was going to make those muffins! And I did! I melted down some chocolate with butter and buttermilk. The buttermilk was used to keep these muffins extra moist, and with just the right amount of chocolate these muffins were chocolaty without being overly sweet.  The contrast the fresh cherries bring an element of brightness along with a sweet sourness to the moist chocolate muffins.

After baking these up I must say, there were delicious, and impressive. Brian went back for seconds! I packed up the remainder and sent them to work with Brian, and when he came home he said they were a big hit. I can see why, I had to hold myself back after just one. I could have easily eaten three. These are a lightly sweet, and I can see them enjoyed with tea or coffee any time of day, but I really think they would be perfect gracing the table of a brunch. It would be the perfect little gratification to a menu of more breakfast like / savory items. I am so glad we will have at least a month or two of these perfect little fruits to enjoy. I’m sure you can find me making these again.

These muffins were delicious, and the fresh cherries were warm and extra tasty in them.

These muffins were delicious, and the fresh cherries were warm and extra tasty in them.

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries (makes 12)

*Note: this recipe will make 12 regular sized muffins. They make look a bit short in the picture, but that is only because I only had large muffin wrappers.

3 oz butter

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp of vanilla extract

7 oz bittersweet chocolate (70 %), chopped small

2 eggs

1 1/3 cup of AP flour

½ cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¾ tsp sea salt

1 ½ cup of cherries, pitted and chopped into quarters

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Using cupcake liners or wrappers, place them inside the cups of a muffin / cupcake pan and set aside.

Next, in a small sauce pan place your butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and 3 oz of your chocolate in the pan over medium heat. Stirring it constantly until the chocolate and butter have melted and are smooth. Remove from the heat, and let it cool slightly. Once cool whisk in eggs and set aside.

Then, in a bowl place your flour, cocoa, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Whisk it all together and then slowly add in your chocolate mixture until it is just combined. (Do not over mix, it will make the muffins tough and / or dry.) Once combined fold in the remainder of the chocolate (4 oz) and the chopped cherries until they are just barely mixed in.

Finally, divide the batter evenly among the lined pan and bake about 20 minutes, rotating it half way through. Test to be sure the muffins are done by inserting a sharp knife into the center of one or two. The knife should remove cleanly but a bit moist. Let the muffins cool about 10 minutes before removing from the pan and serving. Can be made a day ahead but best enjoyed within the day they are baked.

Jun 03

New Jersey visit and a salad to recover.

I am back after a week long visit with family in New Jersey. Both Brian and I grew up in Bergan County, New Jersey; and it is where our parents still reside. Over the last several years Brian’s brother and his family have moved an hour away, and in the last few so has my sister. She also lives about an hour away (in and opposite direction from Brian’s brother) with her family. So even though we visit for a week, we spend it traveling back and forth along Northern New Jersey trying to see and spend personal time with them all. It is great to see everyone, but there is never enough time to catch up with everyone.

Noelle and Uncle Brian. (Noelle just woke up from her nap!)

Noelle and Uncle Brian. (Noelle just woke up from her nap!)

I will say that our time with the family on this trip was well spent. I had two days with my sister and her family. We got to meet our newest little niece, Noelle (10 months old).That was thrilling; staring at this chubby, curly haired little one and noticing that everything she looks at seems to fascinate her. Noelle’s older sister Gia (6 years old) has recently formed quite an interest in cooking and baking – yes, I am thrilled! I promised I would bake with her during our visit, and we did just that. I showed her how to make made French bread; she was amazed by working with yeast and learning about it. She took the bowl of dough that was wrapped for resting and rising to show her mom and my parents. Whispering to them – “It’s the yeast in there. It is working to rise the bread.” We also had to make cookies, as I brought her a new cookbook all about cookies. Of all the recipes she picked out Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies …a girl after my own heart.  The days went by too fast, but we cherished every second we had.

Gia and I measuring out ingredients for our afternoon of baking.

Gia and I measuring out ingredients for our afternoon of baking.

Gia and I tasting the cookies she made and enjoying them.

Gia and I tasting the cookies she made and enjoying them.

On another night we went to Brian’s brother’s home to eat dinner. Brian’s niece, Lora (13 years old), told us about the latest trends in fashion (she is a little fashionista).  Lora then asked us about gnocchi. She remembered eating them and thought it was with us. We were not sure if we did, but Brian explained to her that I make them and they are not too difficult to make. A couple of days later we were in his parent’s kitchen rolling out gnocchi dough from scratch. It was fun to show her how to make them and I think she was impressed how easy it was. She asked a lot of good questions about the process, but more than anything I am so happy Brian and I got to spend that time with her. We then all sat around the table feasting on gnocchi and sharing family stories. It was a good time, and many memories were made. (Recipe for the gnocchi can be found here, and the tomato sauce can be found here.)

Gnocchi production underway with my niece Lora.

Gnocchi production underway with my niece Lora.

The Gnocchi Lora an I made.

The finished Gnocchi Lora an I made.

Besides the back and forth with family across the northern half of New Jersey, we did escape for a day to New York City. We spent a few hours in the Guggenheim, stopped in at a favorite bakery, finally got to drink some really great coffee (I’ve lived the Pacific Northwest too long and we are spoiled here when it comes to coffee. We toured Chelsea Market, and then in the evening we got together with some of Brian’s old high school friends. It was a great evening together, and while we were there we realized that we have not all been in the same room together for 13 years! We made up for the lost time, laughing and catching up on life. It was time extremely well spent.

Brian and his high school buddies. An evening well spent!

Brian and his high school buddies. An evening well spent!

By the time we got home to Seattle we were exhausted. The week went by like a cool breeze on a warm day. It was enjoyable, yet too quick. Before we knew it the time was gone, and our regular life started back up. We had a great time with all our visiting, but I think we ate way too much! I walked to the market and picked up some really nice seasonal veggies and felt that a hearty salad was in order. We needed the boost of veggies after the crab heavy diet we indulged in while we visited. We ate one too many pasta dishes, pastries, bagels, gnocchi, pizza, ice cream, and more. I guess that is what vacation is all about? So in the meantime Brian and I will be happy with a hearty salad or two. This particular one was great with fresh asparagus that was just picked from a local farm, sweet English peas, and a tarragon dressing. The brightness of the fresh tarragon gives this salad more depth than any ordinary oil and vinegar dressing. If you are like us and needed the break from all the heavy eating you will not be disappointed. It was light and fulfilling. I am missing the family and few friends we got to catch up with. (And there were so many we didn”t get to see.) Hopefully it will not be too long before we see them again, but will eat more veggies in prep for our next trip!

Hearty  vegetable salad, with asparagus, peas, and quinoa.

Hearty vegetable salad, with asparagus, peas, and quinoa.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Tarragon Dressing (serves 4)

**Note: if fresh peas are not available, feel free to use the frozen ones. They will work out just fine.

½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 cup fresh peas

1 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp mayo

2 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp Sherry vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

4-5 leaves of lettuce (romaine or green leaf), chopped small

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled

First; place a pot of salted water over a high flame and bring to a boil. Next, cook you quinoa to its packaged instructions. When quinoa is done cooking place in a bowl and set aside to cool.

Next; in a bowl place your mayo, Dijon, tarragon, shallot, garlic, and sherry vinegar in a bowl. Whisk it all together then slowly add in the olive oil. Your dressing should become thick and emulsified. Season it with sea salt and black pepper and set aside. At this time your salted water should be boiling. Place your asparagus and peas into the boiling water. Let them al simmer together about 3 minutes. You veggies will turn bright green and be cooked perfectly. Strain the veggies into a colander and rinse several times under cold water to chill the veggies and stop their cookie process.

Then; toss the veggies and the quinoa with a bit of the dressing. Again season with sea salt and black pepper if you feel it needs it.

Finally, upon serving place the lettuce across the bottom of your platter. Pile the dressed quinoa and veggies over the top of it. Sprinkle it all with the crumbled goat cheese. And drizzle with the remaining dressing if you like.

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